Elaine Welteroth on Pregnancy: ‘I’m Learning to Surrender to My Body’
Elaine Welteroth is on the adventure of a lifetime. In addition to juggling TV projects, home renovations and a new Instagram series, the best-selling author and journalist is pregnant with her first child. The journey has come with its fair share of ups and downs and a rollercoaster of emotions as the Project Runway judge struggled with SPD (read on for more on that) and was forced to truly surrender to her body in a way she never has before. We chatted with the mom-to-be on all things baby, from her positive pregnancy test to how she and her husband Jonathan plan to approach parenthood.
Lauren Kay: Congratulations! I loved your pregnancy announcement—a new “collaboration dropping this spring”—so clever! Tell me a little bit about your journey into parenthood.
Elaine Welteroth: Well, this was the shock of our lives! We did not see this coming at this stage of life, but we have surrendered to the blessing of it. I think that’s what life is about—that’s certainly what life during the pandemic has been about. It’s pivoting, playing the cards that you’re dealt and doing the best with what you got. We do feel the magnitude of this blessing, this kind of surprise gift that we’ve been given.
I’ve had to grapple with what it means to find myself on this journey that I wasn’t anticipating at this point in my professional life, or my personal life. I’m learning what it means to surrender to my body, to this baby that I haven’t met yet and its needs and new needs of my own. There’s a lot that comes with pregnancy that I wasn’t expecting, and that I don’t think people talk about enough.
LK: Are we ever really ready? I think so many couples struggle with this even if they were trying for a baby. When did it feel real to you?
EW: Well it’s actually kind of funny, because this is such a product of the pandemic. I was more prepared for a positive COVID test than I was for a positive pregnancy test. I actually had this weird disassociation when I took the pregnancy test and I saw it was positive. My brain told my body: Oh, we have COVID! Working in television through the pandemic, I was so used to taking COVID tests, and up until this day, every test I took was negative. My brain just associated tests with COVID. It took me a second to realize this wasn’t a positive COVID test—it was a positive pregnancy test. I thought, “Oh sh*t, I’m pregnant.” And then there was this quiet, small little voice that said: “Okay, I’m having a baby.”
I still look at my stomach and think, “What the hell is even going on? Is this even real?” I am in a perpetual state of awe. It’s this perfect balance of acceptance of the things I have no control over, and also holding space for the part of my brain that just can not even fathom what any of this means.
LK: Pregnancy brings up so many emotions. And aches and cravings and all the things. What is bringing you joy during this time?
EW: It’s bringing me joy to spend more time in my body. What I mean by that is I have spent my entire career operating in my head…Pregnancy is forcing me into my body in a new way. I’m having to surrender to my body and its new needs. I feel like the new self-care practices I’m implementing into my pregnancy are preparing me for what it will mean to care for and nurture another life. I think that’s pretty profound. I really think only pregnancy could humble me in a way that I would actually have to serve my body. I’ve never been able to surrender myself to self-care. I’ve never been disciplined or committed to prioritizing myself in that way. But in this stage of my life, I’m being forced to take care of myself, to slow down, to be in my body, to nourish it, to rest and not to push myself past my limits. I feel more human than I’ve ever felt. Everything else I’ve manifested in my life has been the direct result of my efforts, my striving and toiling and willing something into existence. This is the one thing that is happening all on its own, inside me, without my control. I’m just in awe.
And let me just say, I have been enjoying and indulging in whatever my body needs in the moment. If it says I need to take a two and a half hour bath, that’s what I do. If it needs red hot flaming Cheetos (which I’m eating right now by the way), I give it to myself guiltlessly and shamelessly.
I am also extremely grateful to have the kind of partner that I have to go through this with—I could not do it without his support. I have mad respect for all of the single moms or women who have done this solo. I can’t fathom it. My husband has been the saving grace of my pregnancy.
LK: Toxic positivity is a hot topic when it comes to pregnancy and parenting. You recently opened up on Instagram about not just sharing the joy of your journey, but the real stuff too (like your bout of COVID!). You shared a raw video about your struggle with symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD). Tell me more about that.
EW: I was on my babymoon in Mexico. The day before was a really good day. And then that morning, I woke up and the pain was excruciating. I was crying under the covers, unable to get out of bed. I went searching for a forum or online community where I could connect with other women who have experienced this kind of acute, chronic pain associated with SPD. I could only find one thread on Reddit, and even though it was short, the testimonies made me cry tears of relief. I felt so seen. But there was only one thread! So I said, “F*ck it, I’m going to put this out there and see what comes back, and if nothing else I will have a clear conscience about what I shared yesterday when things were good.” In doing so, I realized I created a forum for so many women who needed it. My sharing was very raw and spontaneous. I wouldn’t normally do that, but I don’t want to contribute to the toxic positivity around pregnancy or around anything for that matter, but particularly pregnancy because it is such an isolating time for a lot of people. You layer that with the pandemic, and it’s just hard. I am a truth teller, a journalist who has built a community over the years of telling the truth, especially the hard truth. I felt a responsibility to share the bad along with the good. And sure, I felt uplifted after sharing, but I also felt like it was in service to the community of women who were feeling silenced, or who had an experience of being silenced during a similarly vulnerable stage in their life. I realized that there was more I could be contributing to this conversation, and this creative momentum kind of took over. I realized I am personally on this quest to collect as much information from POC experts in the maternity space for my own peace of mind, and to help me navigate some big decisions that I have to make around the pregnancy and the delivery process. Why don’t I do this with the community, together? So I started an IG Live series: MaterniTea, Expecting The Unexpected. I’m sitting down with different BIPOC experts in the maternity space to unpack the lesser discussed issues and struggles—the good, bad and the ugly—that come up around pregnancy. I’m really excited to roll up my sleeves and put on my journalist hat and investigate this big topic of pregnancy.
LK: That is so exciting! I love the sense of community parenthood brings about. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
EW: I think I’m learning from the pregnancy and from this unborn baby that it’s okay to be spontaneous, to move with the spirit and not overthink every single thing. I’m a journalist, so I’m usually very strategic and structured with the way I put something out into the world. I oversee, overthink and overanalyze, and this time, I’m just going with the flow.
LK: What nuggets of wisdom have you gleaned from this community?
EW: So many gems. The testimonials and outpouring of love and support were really powerful. I read every single one. During the IG Live, I was trying not to get distracted by the comments that were coming in in real time. But when I was wrapping up, someone said she was 29 weeks pregnant and had been struggling with SPD too, and that it didn’t get better for her until she started sharing the worst parts. That resonated so deeply with me. I really held onto that gem from that person that I don’t even know who blessed me in ways they don’t even know. I promise you, I have never experienced such a powerful shift. I woke up the next day feeling so much lighter, more energized and supported. I felt the encouragement from that community encircle me, and now I want to do that for other women.
LK: Speaking of being circled in love, tell me a bit about your teddy bear, your constant companion. Are you going to bequeath it to the baby when he or she arrives?
EW: Ah! I’m sure I’ll share my bear when the baby arrives, but man that little guy brings me so much comfort. It’s so absurd. But I’m also completely unapologetic about it at this point. We’ll be in the car ready to go somewhere and Jonathan will say, “Where’s your bear?” It started off as a soft pillow that softened the seatbelt, which felt so aggressive every time I got in the car early in my pregnancy. It provided immediate comfort. And maybe it’s a way my body is preparing me to have a constant little companion around all the time. I have a friend who’s pregnant, and after seeing me with my bear she said, “I think I really want one too to help with my stress.” I said to her, “You should have one! You can have a stuffed bear as a grown up–do it!”
LK: What are you most looking forward to as a parent? Have you and Jonathan talked about how you plan to raise the baby, any traditions you’re going to carry on, or how you’ll share the responsibilities?
EW: I don’t want to force conversations about parenting when the reality is I have no idea what that’s going to look like, or what my philosophy will be or how I will show up as a parent. I have to trust the process. This has been my biggest lesson in parenting so far. I’m trying to get out of my head and get into my body, trust my instincts. I know we’ll have the necessary conversations as they’re needed, so I’ll let them unfold naturally. But we do know that we were calling in a really fun baby. You hear so many stories about unhappy parents with challenging babies. My worst fear is thinking, “Why did I do this to myself?” So the only way I can enjoy this ride is if I let go, let God and trust the process.
LK: You and Jonathan have such an amazing connection. How do you guys plan to keep that alive once there’s a baby in the mix? How is he feeling about all this?
EW: We’re learning that little adventures do a lot for our relationship, and for us individually as well—even if it’s just a quick drive together with the windows down or stopping to pick up a refreshment. I remember being a little kid and being led out of church and somebody hands you a refreshment. After sitting in church bored for two hours and then, a refreshment. Now it’s an inside joke for Jonathan and me: “Time for a refreshment!” and we’ll pick up an Arnold Palmer. It’s those little joys in life we savor so much.
Jonathan is a physical reminder that there is more light in the world than darkness, and I feel like the love we share is a glimpse into what it will feel like to do life with this baby. It’s our shared creation and collaboration. We planned a wedding during the pandemic, and coming together and figuring out that project brought us so much closer together. It showed us we can learn new ways to partner. Jonathan likes to say he sees life as a classroom, marriage as a classroom, and he’s thinking of parenting as the ultimate classroom where we’re meant to learn things we wouldn’t learn otherwise. We just kicked off a home renovation the same week I entered into my third trimester. I don’t recommend it, but struggles present new opportunities. We joke that we’re packing on the credits this semester.
Jonathan said something to me yesterday that I will never forget—it’s probably up there with the top 10 things he’s ever said to me. Everyone knows nothing is more stressful than renovations than having a baby, and we’re doing both. But Jonathan reframed the challenge. We were picking out the stone for our kitchen and he said, “I realized that what we’re doing isn’t frivolous, we’re designing the universe our child will grow up in. We’re picking the colors and textures they will experience for the first time.” It made me want to cry. I realized he is so right, and that paradigm shift was everything for me. It was such a game-changer. We are designing our kid’s first universe.
LK: That is a really special way to think about it. In addition to the tile, have you picked out a name for baby?
EW: I’ve had a running list of baby names for as long as I can remember. We are surprisingly totally on the same page about the name. We have a name both of us are loving; when we heard these names and put them together for the first time, we both lit up. But we want to meet the baby first before we commit. We have to feel their vibe. We might be those hippie dippie-style parents that wait a few weeks before we actually declare the name. We feel cautiously optimistic. About all of it.